The Crimson Tide (13-6, 4-3 SEC) have proved themselves to be one of the SEC’s best teams. Once ranked as high as No. 6, they dropped recently after consecutive losses to No. 1 Auburn, Missouri and Mississippi State on the road. But since have come victories over No. 13 LSU and that same Missouri squad.
Led by guards Jaden Shackleford (16.9 ppg) and Jahvon Quinnerly (14.8), Alabama ranks second in the SEC and No. 12 nationally in scoring average at 81.4 points.
None of that bodes well for Georgia, which struggles on defense. But the Bulldogs have proved they can compete with the SEC’s best, at least for 20 to 30 minutes. Unfortunately, second-half collapses have been their calling card.
Nowhere was that more evident than the last outing at South Carolina. Georgia led the Gamecocks throughout until suffering a colossal collapse in the second half that saw it outscored 24-0.
There have been similar sags and dips in other conference contests. The Bulldogs led Texas A&M with 1.2 seconds left only to fall to a 3-point dagger. Georgia was ahead or tied for 12:19 of the first half at Rupp Arena and led Mississippi State and Vanderbilt at halftime.
“It’s just we have these stretches where it falls apart,” Etter said. “That is what we have to get figured out.”
They’ve been working on it. But the core issues remain: Georgia is a squad that features 10 newcomers and lost two starters to injury in the first month of the season. The Bulldogs lack size in the post. They lack depth.
The responsibility for that all falls on the shoulders of coach Tom Crean. In his fourth season at the helm of the program, criticism and calls for change are increasing in volume.
Crean’s not listening for it, but he knows it’s there.
“I don’t hear it, whether it’s social media or those type of things,” Crean said. “It’s not my first time down that road in the coaching life, and you learn from experiences. My focus is completely centered on the team and how we can get better and prepare for these games. That’s the most important thing. I learned that a while back, and I have no intention of changing it.”
Crean inherited a mess at Indiana and won only eight Big Ten games in the first three seasons. But the Hoosiers won 27 games the next season and the conference championship the next.
It’s hard to imagine such a turnaround for Georgia, but there are at least 13 games still to be played.
“We have two-thirds of the conference season left. There’s a lot of basketball left to be played.” Crean said. “And the bottom line is, we are closer in a lot of areas than it may appear. They have to understand that.”
“They” is the Georgia players, not the fans. And nobody wants to turn it around more than them.
“We have to get it figured out,” Etter said. “… Locate the issue and solve it. But I can’t quantify how much we want to win because it is high up there.”